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Romney vs Obama on Education Policy: Obama is Not Perfect, But He is Better

The last two weeks have been the Democrats’ and Republicans’ opportunity to explain to the nation how our country would operate under two very different schools of political thought.  

You have the liberal Democrats on the left arguing for why Obama needs four more years vs. their conservative Republican counterparts on the right, making it known that a change in leadership is needed in Washington.  

For those not well-versed in politics, this was also the two-week opportunity to catch up on what has been happening with this country over the last four years while each party battles it out for the affection and sensibilities of voters this Election Day.

As each party’s candidates and supporters laid out their respective party’s positions on the economy, health care, international relations, and women’s rights, we were offered the choice between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney. 

But one issue, however, that was not extensively discussed was Obama’s and Romney’s education priorities. Each candidate – and, subsequently, each party – has a very different view of education and what our nation’s policies should be moving forward to make our education system stronger and more robust.  

Romney, on one hand, takes a more conservative, micro-level approach to education while his presidential counterpart has a more "bigger-government-is-better" approach to dealing with our educational crisis.  

If given control of the White House, whose policies would be better for our country? Below, you will find an analysis of the major and overarching themes of each candidate’s education positions with a focus on the ideas that will drive their education policies.

Mitt Romney: Conservatism at its Finest

Mitt Romney takes a very classic conservative and business-like approach to education.  Competition and innovative would probably be the best words to describe his thinking around education and his key education positions include charter schools, school choice, and vouchers.

Charter schools are publicly funded schools that operate just outside of the purview of their local school district’s authority, giving these public schools unprecedented managerial freedom. Charter schools, in theory, are supposed to be incubators of innovation, allowing public schools to try new and pioneering methods of educating students. The thinking is that the methods used by these charter schools will serve as models for traditional public schools to emulate. Eventually, these innovations would be scaled up to serve entire districts.

School choice and vouchers are very similar.  School choice, literally, is the idea that students and parents – theoretically fed up with their local school options – would have the choice to pick a better school alternative. And vouchers could potentially aid in this process. A voucher is money – or, more accurately, a subsidy – that would be used by a family to either attend another public school in a different district (with this money being used for transportation costs, etc.) or a private school (where this money could be used to cover tuition).

The Good About Mitt Romney and His Thinking around Education:

At the most micro of levels (students and families), charter schools, school choice, and vouchers are absolutely wonderful. For a family with very limited options for good schools in their local district, offering any alternative is very much welcomed. There are many communities in our nation suffering from sub-par public schools, and giving that student, that family, that community a sense of hope and the option to choose something different (and hopefully better) is sound policy.

An Argument Against Mitt Romney and His Thinking Around Education:

As stated above, charter schools, school choice, and vouchers operate at the most micro of levels, meaning that if our priority as a nation is to overhaul and change an entire education system, these tenets do not nearly go far enough. Offering an alternative to public schools – which unfortunately, many times, means closing down schools that have been staples in communities for decades – without paying particular attention to how poverty, unemployment, hopelessness, discrimination, and segregation all interact with each other to create conditions where public schools are doomed to fail is pure folly.

And specifically with charter schools, one problem is that they are all vastly different. All charters are not uniform in quality, and that reality dramatically plays itself out in communities that are yearning for high-quality schools. Some charters are doing extremely well, while others, unfortunately, are not doing so well.

Barack Obama: Big Government at its Finest

President Obama has made it perfectly clear that investing in community colleges is a key component of his education platform. He has also implemented the hugely controversial federal initiative/competition, "Race to the Top," where the federal government has challenged states (with the enticement of some very generous federal dollars) to outline their education reform efforts in an attempt to spark innovation and a renewed focus on education reform at the state level.

The Good About Barack Obama and His Thinking Around Education:

Not many people can argue with the statistics that show the correlation between one’s education level and increase in earnings. With this new 21st century, post-industrial age that we are currently privileged to be living in, increased educational attainment is paramount for anyone in this country that is serious about his or her economic wellbeing  (not to mention staying employed).  RTTT, as Race to the Top is affectionately abbreviated, has placed education reform at the forefront of states’ priorities.

An Argument Against Barack Obama and His Thinking around Education:

A big argument against RTTT is that the federal government is grossly overstepping its boundaries when it comes to states’ rights. Traditionally, federal dollars have provided only a small portion of states’ overall education budgets (typically less than 10%). So for the federal government to demand schools to conform to the federal government’s idea of education reform – including the expansion of charter schools, which hasn’t proven to be the panacea, yet, that many were hoping for – and to tie federal dollars to that definition, some feel that the amount of money given to states does not necessarily add up to the amount of influence they should have on states’ affairs, which is a particularly thorny issue for many.

So, Who Offers a Better Plan?

Overall, Obama’s guiding principles are better for our nation’s future if we are thinking about education reform from a more macro level. With RTTT and investments in postsecondary education, he offers a plan focused more on moving our entire educational system forward.  Conversely, Romney, with his guiding principles being competition and school choice, his reform efforts will only go so far in effecting change at a broad level.  

Though they both differ in their approaches to education, policymakers, however, must figure out how to use the federal government, charter schools, vouchers, school choice, teachers’ unions, community-based organizations, and investments in both K-12 and postsecondary education to truly see the change in education we so desperately need in this country.

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